Brittany Howard had such an electric presence with Alabama Shakes on the Honda Stage at the Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2016 that it’s hard to imagine making the case for her being even more compelling when she took the same stage with an eight-piece ensemble on Saturday afternoon in Zilker Park. But if you saw it, you’d believe it.
Howard’s debut solo album “Jaime,” released last month, broadened the horizons of Alabama Shakes’ loosely Americana-based music into something almost impossible to define. Fascinating as it is on record, it was hard to tell how these new songs might translate onstage.
The answer, upon seeing her hourlong set: This material feels absolutely made for live performance. From the deeply soulful grooves of “He Loves Me” (which opened the show) to the Motown-ish groove of several tracks — underscored by a cover of the Jackie Wilson hit “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” — to the red-hot emotion of the personal-sociopolitical tale “Goat Head,” Howard stayed fully immersed in the moment from start to finish.
Partly that’s due to her band, which features Alabama Shakes bassist Zac Cockrell and others who’d toured as part of the Shakes’ extended lineup. As such, it’s partly a continuation of the work she did with the Grammy-winning, chart-topping group. But where the Shakes seemed to have their emotional blasts in measured amounts, this time it’s as if Howard is fully beyond containment.
Everything built up to “13th Century Metal,” the spoken-word mission-statement that stands out on “Jaime.” Moving as it is on record, its power ratchets to another level when Howard is delivering those lines in person, especially when she ad-libs a bit as the song goes on. Toward the song’s end, she picked up her guitar and, rather than playing it — as she had off and on during the set — she held it above her head, using it more as a prop than an instrument in a manner that proved forceful and dramatic.
Two other covers further revealed where Howard is coming from. The first was Prince’s “The Breakdown,” and you can hear the legendary musician’s influence on the adventurous nature of “Jaime.” She ended the set with an extended ramble that was loosely based on the Beatles’ “Revolution,” Howard recast it into her own song, simultaneously making it much more full of both anger and hope.
“Do you feel me?” she asked the crowd midway through the set. There was no doubt about that, for anyone within earshot.